Pascale's Kitchen: Delicious, healthy dates

The dates in Israel are dried naturally by the sun while they are still on the tree, without the use of any industrial processes or chemical preservatives.

Dates (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
There are endless opinions by experts of what someone should eat before engaging in athletic activity. The most interesting piece of advice I’ve ever heard was that you should eat one Medjool date before working out.
And because I’m one of those people who absolutely needs to nibble on something sweet when I have a cup of coffee, and I try not to eat too many cookies or pieces of cake, I rely on dates to take their place without feeling too guilty. 
Dates play an extremely important role in my kitchen. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that dates can be added to almost any dish I make, whether we’re talking about dates in a cake, or used as a spread with ground nuts, such as in haroset for the Passover Seder. In the traditional Mimouna celebration, dates are stuffed with walnuts and almonds.
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If you want to go one step further, dates are delicious when used in chocolate cream icing. But let’s not forget that dates are delectable when added to chicken and beef dishes, too. By adding just one date to the Shabbat cholent, you can sweeten the whole pot and also color it a beautiful hue.
Although Tu Bishvat has passed, I’m sure many of you still have a few dates left in your pantries. If you store them in the fridge, they will stay fresh for much longer and that way you will always have them on hand if friends notify you they’ll be coming over for a visit (but not while we’re still on COVID-19 lockdown, of course).
Dates are also the best snack for when you need something sweet to give you a burst of energy and happiness. 
Did you know that dates are one of Israel’s most important industries? Many of Israel’s biggest growers are located in the Arava.
The most popular date is the Medjool, which is considered the finest variety of date in the world. And in my opinion, it is definitely the tastiest, too.
The dates in Israel are dried naturally by the sun while they are still on the tree, without the use of any industrial processes or chemical preservatives. 
Medjool dates are considered a superfood due to their nutritional richness. Dates contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B1, B2, and B3; potassium; magnesium; iron and calcium. They are a great healthy alternative to sweets. 
In folk medicine, including in a number of Jewish Middle Eastern cultures, Medjool dates are known to be a remedy for impotence, anemia, stomach ailments, eating disorders, STDs, heart disease, acne, depression and even a cure of infertility. Over 80% of Israel’s dates that are grown in the Arava are exported to Europe, the US, Australia, Russia, India, Thailand and the UAE. 
Below, you will find three recipes that hail from chefs who live in the Arava in communities that grow dates and love making dishes that feature Medjool dates. The first recipe is for spring chicken with dates, Thai basil and orange zest. The second recipe is for a date cake that is a rich, one-bowl recipe that is also sugar and gluten-free. The third recipe is for a date, pecan and chocolate pie that everyone in the family will love. 
So, enjoy eating dates, whether it be in your favorite sweet or savory dish, or just as a treat on their own when you need a little boost of energy.
Pastry chef Hagit Shaham, Ein Yahav, Arava
Use a 24-cm.-diameter pan. 
150 gr. flour, sifted
50 gr. corn flour
50 gr. powdered sugar
50 gr. pecans, ground
100 gr. butter
1 large egg
100 gr. pecans, broken into pieces
50 gr. bittersweet chocolate chips
8 Medjool dates (150 gr.), pitted and cut lengthwise into quarters
50 gr. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
250 gr. maple syrup
Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until dough is crumbly and has a texture like wet sand. Add the egg and mix using pulses just until mixed. Form the dough into a ball and then flatten into the shape of a pita, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. 
Roll out the dough on a floured surface until it’s 4 mm. thick. Line a 24-cm.- or 26-cm.-diameter baking dish so that the dough hangs over the sides. Cut off the excess dough and place the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes. 
Preheat the oven to 180° and turn to turbo. Take the dough out of the freezer and cover it with aluminum foil. Press the foil to cover tightly and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes until dough turns golden brown. Remove and let partially cool. 
Lower temperature of the oven to 170°. Sprinkle the pecans and chocolate chips on the crust. Arrange the date pieces in circles on the crust.
In a bowl, mix together the melted butter, vanilla, eggs and maple syrup. Stir well by hand or with an immersion blender. Pour over the crust. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is firm. Remove and let cool completely. Store in the fridge. Serve cold. 
Note: You can use the same amount of silan in place of the maple syrup, in which case the cake will be less sweet, and the flavor of the dates will be stronger. 
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour. 
Status: Dairy.
Ronit Elazari, “Gan Yerek,” Tzofar, Arava
Makes 2 loaf pans.
400 gr. Medjool dates, pitted
1.5 cups gluten-free flour, mixed with 1 level teaspoon of baking soda
100 gr. walnuts, ground
4 large eggs
½ cup silan
1 cup canola oil
Place the dates in the bowl of a food processor. Add ¼ cup of flour to prevent the dates from sticking to the sides and then process. Transfer to a bowl and then add the walnuts. 
Beat the eggs with an electric whisk. While mixing, slowly add the silan and mix well. 
Add the oil while mixing slowly. Turn off the mixer and sift the flour into the mixture. Using a spatula, fold in the walnuts and dates until mixed well. 
Pour mixture into 2 loaf pans lined with baking paper. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 170° for 30 minutes. Let cool.
Level of difficulty: Easy.
Time: 1 hour. 
Status: Parve. 
Chef Yinon Be’eri, Paran, Arava
Makes 4 servings. 
2 spring chicken thighs with skin
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
Pinch of nutmeg
Coarse salt and pepper
6-8 Tbsp. olive oil
Some fresh red chili peppers, sliced
10 dates, pitted
2 Tbsp. ground coffee 
½ cup chicken broth or water
1-2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Olive oil
1 handful Thai basil, chopped
Zest from ½ an orange
Remove all the excess fat of chicken thighs and cut into filets without taking off skin (you can ask butcher to prepare it this way for you). 
Season chicken with cumin, coriander, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and fry the chicken, skin side down, until browned nicely. You can cover the pan while frying. Flip over and fry chicken on the second side until browned nicely. 
Transfer the chicken to an oven dish and bake in an oven that has been preheated to 200°-210° while you prepare the sauce. 
Heat the rest of the oil in a small pot and add the red chilies, dates and coffee. Fry for a few seconds. Add the chicken stock or water, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Stir and continue cooking over a medium flame until the dates have partially fallen apart.
Taste and adjust seasoning. When the sauce is a perfect combination of sweet and sour, remove the pot from the flame and drain the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the frying pan. The sauce should be pretty thick. 
Take the chicken out of the oven and poke holes in the pieces with the end of a sharp knife to check if it’s finished cooking. If it has, transfer the chicken pieces to the hot pan with the sauce. Next, transfer the chicken to a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil. Add the Thai basil and the orange zest, and serve with puree made with red potatoes. 
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour. 
Status: Meat. 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.